International Iron Man #6
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 1 out of 10
Contrary to what the comments section might lead you to believe, reviewing comic books isn’t exactly the epitome of serious business. After doing this for a couple years or so, you learn to not take these funny books too personally, to instead unclench and take a dispassionate, analytical view from week to week.
But every great once in a while, there’s a book that feels like such a misfire that you can’t help but need to count to 10. Maybe you take a deep breath, take a walk - or maybe you have rewrite your lede three or four times before it’s something that reaches a publishable standard.
That’s where I was when I read International Iron Man #6, a book that checks off almost every comic book sin I can think of. This flashback issue by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, which focuses on how Tony Stark’s biological parents met, might be the worst bit of decompressed storytelling I’ve seen in years, not only failing to give any new depth to Tony Stark’s past, but actually rehashing underdeveloped storylines that Bendis has already tried to serve readers in other books. Unless you’re a diehard fan of Maleev’s artwork, this is one of those rare comic books that is so wrong-headed and so flimsily constructed that it overwhelms just about any of its potentially redeeming qualities.
While it’s not unheard of to have an issue of a comic without your central character, you’ve got to have a compelling reason for it - and when it comes to International Iron Man, this series has already been bogged down with more flashbacks than scenes with the actual superhero himself. This sixth issue, however, doesn’t even have Tony Stark in it whatsoever - in fact, this story focuses almost exclusively on Tony’s biological mother, Amanda Armstrong, and only barely teases in the last few pages that this is how she met Tony’s biological father. (It’s telling that even the caption “This is the story of how Tony Stark’s biological parents met” is stretched out across not one, not two, but three pages, thanks to a brutally awkward set of ellipses.)
So we don’t have our lead hero - we barely even have the origin story leading up to our lead hero. But if Amanda was a compelling character, we’d still have that to lean on, right? Unfortunately, no - Bendis’ narrative rests on a pretty inexplicable premise, that a random Greenwich Village musician would be recruited by the Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine to become a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (and get a recording contract in the bargain). Barely lampshaded by a quick reference about her father being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent killed in the line of duty, even Amanda says, “you do see how this all sounds crazytown?”
Yet the idea of a super-spy pop musician is a good one - good enough that Bendis already tried it with Dazzler over in the X-Men books - but he doesn’t follow through on either aspect of Amanda’s life. Aside from half-hearted references to George Martin and John Lennon, we get none of the energy or excitement of a ‘70s rock concert, and considering how little she does as a spy (she nearly gets killed by some random gunman in this issue’s only bit of action), the issue comes off as a total non-starter from two different directions. Artist Alex Maleev gives the comic its only bit of a pulse, but even his sharp-edged lines are in the service of a sterile and static script that goes basically nowhere, instead having to draw all of its energy solely from colorist Paul Mounts, who washes certain scenes of the book in some evocative blues and oranges.
While you might feel aggravated by Bendis’ fumble of a premise, it gets almost insulting when you remember that the writer already wrote a lengthy story about superheroes with secret parental ties to S.H.I.E.L.D. over in Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man barely a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, this issue’s glacial progression makes that Ultimate Spider-Man story seem like essential reading, but as a reader who plunked down his own money for the privilege, I can’t help but feel like someone’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes with a book that over-promises and under-delivers this thoroughly. Don’t make the same mistake I did, and spend your cash on a book that at least makes an attempt at going through the motions - because at the end of the day, Bendis and Maleev are creators who are capable of great things, but International Iron Man #6 is absolutely not it.